Why is it that some women sail through their monthly cycle each month whereas others experience a whole host of turbulence and are stopped in their tracks?
The answer could lie in your hormonal system which is managed by your brain via your hormonal control centres.
Today I’m going to try to shed some light on all this by looking at the different ways women are wired and what happens chemically week by week in our most incredible bodies.
The hormonal system
You may not have heard of it, but your hypothalamus is a key endocrine gland that serves many functions within your nervous system and is ultimately responsible for the direct control of the entire system.
The hypothalamus releases hormones which trigger the pituitary gland, also known as the master gland or the control centre, to release hormones and send signals to the rest of the endocrine glands in the body, including the ovaries, thyroid and adrenal gland.
Hormones are vital chemical substances in all animals, including humans. They’re often known as ‘chemical messengers’ that carry information and instructions from one group of cells to another. They influence and regulate every cell, organ and function of the body.
Because hormonal processes begin in the brain, mental issues such as continual long term stress, for example, can eventually lead to chronic health concerns such as under-functioning thyroid, adrenal or reproductive functions.
Pituitary and adrenal glands
The pituitary gland secretes the follicle stimulating hormones (commonly measured by GPs in blood tests) and luteinising hormones which determine how much oestrogen, progesterone or testosterone is released. Activity at this level then impacts our hormonal state on a day to day basis.
But let’s not forget the key role our wonderful adrenal glands play in the whole process of being a woman as well.
Adrenal glands are two pea-shaped glands that sit on top of the kidneys and monitor the fight or flight response when your body is stimulated to respond to a stressful situation. In a short term situation, adrenaline is released to help us feel more alert and focused and the hormone cortisol is released too to stimulate a range of chemical changes simultaneously which support the body to very quickly prepare for the challenge it faces.
Once the threat to either flee from a situation or fight has gone, adrenaline levels usually reduce, and cortisol levels should do too. But, unfortunately, with the stressful lives many of us now lead, cortisol levels are often not given the chance to maintain at healthy levels and day to day stress can eventually lead to the development of other chronic health conditions as a result.
Let’s take a closer look at just what happens to our bodies each week of our cycles.
The first 7 days
We’ll start with day 1 of your menstruation, the menstrual phase. This is the time when there is a lot of internal energy being consumed. Oestrogen levels are at their lowest, if they exist at all. Some women may feel tiredness, lethargy and tearfulness while experiencing mood swings, breasts swelling, bloating or migraines.
Days 8-13 – Revving up your purpose and passion again!
For many women, this period is when they look to get their energy levels back up. They’ll find themselves wanting to look good, wear bright colours and generally exhibit plenty of ‘get up and go’!
In more scientific terms, this is known as the follicular phase when your brain sends a trigger to your ovaries to produce an egg and oestrogen starts to gradually increase each day.
Along with oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels are starting to increase again too. These hormones are essential to our wellbeing and work in harmony together. This is the time many women start to feel like they are getting their creative self back again, starting to feel more adventurous and ready to embrace the opportunities that come their way.
This graph explains the fluctuation of oestrogen and progesterone throughout the monthly cycle.
Days 14-16 – In your element!
This is the absolute peak time for oestrogen and testosterone, when you’re at your most fertile and when you’re biologically programmed to be at your best. It’s the time when you will naturally radiate and glow, you’ll naturally want to stand out by dressing well, accessorising your outfits and wearing bright colours.
Life feels good, confidence levels are soaring. Not only are you embracing all opportunities but you’re firing on all cylinders; you’re a woman with purpose who’s living her passions.
Day 17-28 – Touch down…
This phase, known as the ‘luteal phase’, can last around 14 days or so and is probably the longest part of your monthly cycle. This is when the progesterone (the calming hormone) has peaked to enable fertilisation to take place but oestrogen starts to gradually decrease at the same time, which means that your energy levels may also start to reduce.
During this time you might be methodical, organised and calm but for some it may be that the progesterone finds it hard to counteract the imbalance and so symptoms of bloating, irritability and low energy take over. This stage when we’re going through oestrogen dominance is what we understand to be PMS or pre-menstrual syndrome.
So what causes oestrogen dominance? Well, this is a term defined by Dr John Lee who shows that the explosion of synthetic hormones in so many areas and activities in our lives has caused an imbalance in women of increasing concern.
These days we drink oestrogens, breathe them in to the body and eat them in the form of food and medications such as oral contraceptive pills and HRT.
Oestrogens are a very important group of hormones and they play a key role during puberty, menstruation and menopause. It is a group of hormones without which many chronic health conditions develop. But the body needs it in its natural form so that it doesn’t interfere with other hormonal activity. Dr Lee says that by using natural progesterone in combination with diet and lifestyle changes many common female health problems can be overcome or prevented.
An imbalance in the sex hormones may in some cases manifest itself with psychological symptoms such as premenstrual tension at one end of the spectrum and menopausal symptoms at the other and post natal depression in between. However, to be labelled as having a mental illness and have drugs fed in to our intricate systems in most cases is really not the answer.
So how do we deal with these emotions and physical symptoms? Well, click through to my next blog on the subject to find out
I would love to hear more about your monthly experiences and what you do to support your monthly cycle, and if you’ve enjoyed reading this please comment and share it on Facebook and Twitter.
Bye for now,